/ Route setting - art, science or random?

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full stottie on 29 Oct 2013
I've been musing about how indoor routes are set. I know there are courses and associations for route setters, but are there some principles behind it all? Seems to me that on the walls I frequent, easier routes = bigger holds, more holds and closer together, and harder routes = smaller holds, fewer of them and further apart.

This is not quite how real outdoor routes are, or is it?

And are indoor routes set with leading or top-roping in mind?

Most route-setters will climb harder than I can, so can they set easier routes that are satisfying and challenging?


Feedback from route setters and wall users welcome!


JoshOvki on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:

When I set I try and think about the moves in advance, the sort of moves I would like on a route and in what order. Easier routes are not always juggy and straight, you can make them interesting.

>easier routes = bigger holds, more holds and closer together, and harder routes = smaller holds, fewer of them and further apart.
>This is not quite how real outdoor routes are, or is it?

Is it not? Look at echo wall compared to a Mod somewhere. One has very few holds, that are small and far apart, the other has lots of big holds close together.

I set with a top rope/lead in mind. With a lead line you have to think about the position of the climber while clipping, on top rope you don't.

Throw all of that together, with a bit of voodoo, and a sacrificed t-nut and jobs a goodun.
AlH - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie: There are good setters and bad setters. Some seem to have a creative knack and have always been able to set good routes. Others learn over time. As a few starters for 10 though…. I often find that:
Setting with a particular type of move in mind helps me begin to build a route
Trying to increase difficulty can be done by using the shape of holds creatively rather than just choosing smaller ones further apart
Using small foot holds creatively can also give good routes rather just feet follow hands
I don't like routes that are just one crux amidst a sea of much easier climbing
GridNorth - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie: Undercover rock in Bristol used to have a reputation for good quality routes. I think this was down to Rob Parker encouraging local climbers, with a few years outdoor climbing experience, to set routes. Don't know what its like now but considering it was plywood with bolt-on holds and no moulded features they did very well. To answer your question probably a combination of all 3 with a smattering of luck and a lot of experience.
full stottie on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to JoshOvki:

That's helpful. As for indoor routes reflecting outdoor routes, you do quote the extremes - Echo Wall and a Mod, and I suppose generalising it may be fair, but some lower graded routes do require technique as well - I'm thinking of say Central or Right Hand Trinity at Stanage, or Black and Tan or Lorraine at Bowden, where your ability to get in the right position is as important as the number and size of holds available.

I like the idea of voodoo - do you have a doll of a fat bumbly climber that you use?
JoshOvki on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:

Yeah I know two extremes. Generally when I set I try and make it as interesting as possible if it is a 3 or a 6c. I also tend to put in additional small footholds to stop it being huge reaches for people.

It is not the fat bumbly climbers I use (they normally know what they can climb), it is the young spritely ones that climb with no style, rest every clip and then go "yeah I nailed that", it upsets me. When I can't find my voodoo doll I use a real climber...
RockSteady on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:

I think route setting is a skill. It seems to need discipline, experience and dedication for someone to actually be any good at it.

I appreciate the hard work that goes into creating a route at a wall - people I know who do it come away pretty knackered after a full day's setting. A lot seems to turn on the climbing wall's setting policy. Where they pay someone to set a whole centre in a couple of days you invariably get some routes that have been thrown up and not really crafted. The best walls do rolling setting around the centre with a variety of setters.

My pet hates:
Sandbag routes in the low 6s. People warm up on these. Extended sequences of desperate crimps on overhanging walls are not usually encountered outside at this grade.

Routes set with lots of hand-matching and footswapping. Just don't flow, not fun to climb. A move or two is all well and good, but having to do it a lot is a sign of a badly set route.

Routes set where it's difficult to clip the second or third clips. A bit silly really. Outside you'd use a clipstick on a sport route like this. Personally I think any route where the crux is clipping isn't great.

Routes that cross over other lines. Might make it more interesting, but at crowded walls they are rarely practical.
Kieran_John - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to RockSteady:
> (In reply to full stottie)
> My pet hates:
> Sandbag routes in the low 6s. People warm up on these. Extended sequences of desperate crimps on overhanging walls are not usually encountered outside at this grade.

I'm going to hold my hands up here and say, despite having been climbing a fair bit, I've no idea what "sand bagging" or "sandbag" actually means.

Can someone fill me in?
johncoxmysteriously - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:

>This is not quite how real outdoor routes are, or is it?

Well no, but then real outdoor routes have stuff like cracks. And, generally, hard ror's and steeper than easy ror's. If you want to set routes of (say) 5b and 7b on the same wall, thus at the same angle, using modular holds on plywood, then there aren't too many methods of doing it other than smaller holds and/or further apart.

jcm
elliptic on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to Kieran_John:

> what "sand bagging" or "sandbag" actually means

Undergrading, wrong beta, any kind of false/selective/misleading information designed to give the wrong impression about a route.

Meanwhile, if there's one thing that distinguishes good setting for me it's this:

> Using small foot holds creatively can also give good routes rather just feet follow hands
full stottie on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to Kieran_John:

Sandbag (noun) - route masquerading as something it isn't, for example indoors, a route labelled 6a which should be 6c+, or outdoors, any Northumberland VS.

Sandbag (verb - to sandbag, to be sandbagged): when so-called friend points you at a route and says "You'll be fine" before sniggering to self.

Also, Proxymoron - victim of sandbagging

Opposite of sandbag - "soft touch".
johncook - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie: Maybe all walls should keep the setter anonymous and have a vote book for routes. If one setter seems to set sandbags, badly grade or poor quality routes, that setter could then be talked to in private.
I climb at a number of indoor walls during the winter and find some setters are considerably better than others. One setter makes the routes harder or easier by changing the size of the hold, rather than the type of move, and their given grades can be way off ( have lead a 6c and failed on the 5 on the same piece of plywood). Even without the setters name on the route you can guess who set it. Other setters can set interesting, and well graded routes on exactly the same kind of wall.
We are all prone to criticising, but input from customers should help to improve the quality of the work, as it does in any industry that really cares for it's customers.
tlm - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:

To me, things that make a good indoor route include:
Having consistent difficulty.
Not relying on long reaches to make it harder
Using features as part of the route (which requires the wall to have a variety of decent features in the first place, or the use of bolt on features), so a bit of bridging, laybacking, back and footing or even jamming!
A bit of sideways movement at some point, rather than pure up and down.
Having to use some body balance - twisting your actual body, or having to rock over, push off holds etc, rather than simply pulling with your hands and pushing with your legs.
Something where cunning will stand you in good stead.
And for leading, having a decent hold at a sensible position near to the bolt for when you are clipping.
myth - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie: Certainly not random, but not sure it fits either and art or science.

At my local there are some really hard climbs which are extremely enjoyable and just seem to flow. Then there are 'easy' ones which are jarring and don't seem to make sense. The setters are consistent with the way they set routes, bad or good.
full stottie on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to tlm:

Those are great criteria for a satisfying route! I wonder if a crux move is something to add in at least a few routes? As long as there are enough routes to get mileage in, which is something I need.
witnessthis - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to RockSteady:

I would add to this an over zealous attention to recreating competition style problems and routes with this style.Sometimes this is good fun etc and has the advantage that using this style in setting is designing problems/routes that cannot be 'cheated' ie you HAVE to follow a set sequence.
I do not find this style at all useful to train on...at least if its the dominant style at a wall.Besides it often means mostly the footholds end up to big,gratuitous feet follow hands style and worst of all the obligatory one hand dyno finish great for shoulders....not !!!
All the above in the right quantity is fine but tiny screw ons/jibbs,poor holds in general is good as well even on grades 6a/6a+ depending on the angle.
Here in London things seem to be moving on in styles though-so personally my objections are now dissipating.
GridNorth - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to myth: To some extent it depends what you want from an indoor route and what the setter is attempting to provide. The most enjoyable routes are those that flow well but some routes are set to test particular techniques/moves. These latter don't always flow but can help to improve a specific technique.
Ramblin dave - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to full stottie:
> (In reply to JoshOvki)
>
> That's helpful. As for indoor routes reflecting outdoor routes, you do quote the extremes - Echo Wall and a Mod, and I suppose generalising it may be fair, but some lower graded routes do require technique as well - I'm thinking of say Central or Right Hand Trinity at Stanage, or Black and Tan or Lorraine at Bowden, where your ability to get in the right position is as important as the number and size of holds available.

I always find it a bit weird when people use "technique" to mean "cunning tricks that you have to figure out". Even straight-ahead crank-fests without a toe-hook in sight are going to be a damn sight easier if you use the right body position and accurate footwork...

In any case, yeah, it seems to be an art and it's a hard one to get right, but it's great when people do.

Significant grumbles for me are:
* excessively cruxy routes
* excessively cruxy routes where the crux is the sit start
* tendon-killing pocket-pulling cruxes
* loads of routes in a given set using variations of the same basic "trick"
* lack of variety genrally
* routes that are more awkward because you have to avoid holds from other routes
* routes that wander into the same space as other routes on the same coloured holds
* routes with very similar coloured holds on the same panel.
Ramblin dave - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to Ramblin dave:
Sorry, that sounds like a load of moaning, but route-setting is one of those things where it's a lot harder to articulate what you don't like than what you do...
RockSteady on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to witnessthis:

Some interesting viewpoints. In my experience the worst setting is at walls which only have one setter. You'll only ever get one style and it's all down to their whims.

Agree with the above re: comp style routes/problems. Think it's best to have a mix of those and routes which can be done in a variety of styles - similar to outside.

For me, consistently the best setter at the London walls is Liam Halsey. Over the last few years he's regularly set interesting routes at all the grades I can climb. Real difference in quality between his routes and others.

witnessthis - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to RockSteady:
All styles are good some are a pure indoor style and some are more focussed towards outdoors.The argument can go on and on about this.
I prefer the latter style-that is indoor movement that replicates outdoors as much as resin and plywood can.To say it cannot is just nonsense in my mind.
I feel all the London walls (in the context of the above) seem to be emerging out of an over-reliance on just one or two setters.This is great as individual qualities are emerging that are producing good setting that avoids the pitfalls of just a handful of setters
.At Least 20+ problem and route setters are at work at the London now..this is great IMO.
mkean - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to full stottie:
It is a bit from box A and a bit from box B. I was really impressed by Redpoint in Bristol; a good variety of routes with really interesting moves on them. Also a good deal of consistency across the various setters unlike some other walls where you look at who set it rather than the grade!
MeMeMe - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to full stottie:

I don't set routes but I do climb them and one subtle thing that makes a good route is that the holds are angled in such a way as they give you a hint as to you what the sequence is.
It just helps the route flow a bit and so is more satisfying.

tmawer - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to MeMeMe:

Interesting...I do a bit of route setting and try to the complete opposite as I feel it's more satisfying if you have to work it all out without it being "telegraphed" to you. The wall I set on is only about 9 metres high and so not really much time for a satisfying flow anyway! I seem to get more positive than negative comments about my routes, but this may be just people being polite!
tlm - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to tmawer:

> Interesting...I do a bit of route setting and try to the complete opposite as I feel it's more satisfying if you have to work it all out without it being "telegraphed" to you.

I prefer this as well! Maybe it is because I am weak, cowardly, but cunning.
tmawer - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to tlm:

I secretly enjoy seeing the young, strong climbers baffled whilst watching the weak, older but more experienced climbers, float up them!
Ramblin dave - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to tmawer:
It's a bit of a cliche, but I think variety is good. Everyone likes a few problems where you really have to think about it to unlock the moves, but at the same time sometimes it's nice to just get on stuff and climb rather than standing around scratching your head for ages.
MeMeMe - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to tmawer:


Don't get me wrong you don't need to do this for every hold, but if it's an unusual sequence, like you have to match hands, or a big cross over, or a gaston between holds it's nice to give a subtle hint so the flow of the route isn't interrupted too much.

It might be because I generally on-sight rather than work routes and this works much better if you can read sequence. I do like routes where there is a clever sequence that isn't necessarily telegraphed (there is a satisfying "ah, that's what you do!" moment), but I generally dislike it if the hints are intentionally misleading.
ti_pin_man - on 01 Nov 2013
I regularly climb at three different walls and I certainly enjoy the routes at one wall more than the others. Subjectively they just seem more interesting, not just crimpy hard but needing interesting moves and interesting balance and technique.

It doesnt equate to outdoors in my experience but I find it fun and good training and a good crack.

If its a bouldering only centre then you can tell, its not just set to warm up the rope customers.

I think the balance in grades a wall has is important. The two I prefer to climb at both have a lot in the middle grades. The roped centre has a lot either easy or hard but less in the middle, as such this gets the newbies in and climbing but then looses them when they try to progress. I've mentioned this to them, so hopefully they'll change and keep their boulderers interested.
MeMeMe - on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to MeMeMe:

Oh and also you don't necessarily have to telegraph a move by having the hold angled so the incut crimp is angled to pull on to do the move, sometimes you can work out the move because the the crimp is on the wrong side to pull on and so you can work out should should be pushing down on the rubbish side of the hold (or whatever).
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keith-ratcliffe on 01 Nov 2013
In reply to full stottie: I climb at a wall in Stirling and I think the route setting there is really good. It is a small wall but they squeeze nearly 50 routes into it with a good range of grades (4-7b)and styles. Its a DR wall with a lot of it moulded to incorporate holds and even the flat panels have textured features.
There are two main setters - of different build - but others also get involved and they talk to and listen to the climbers. One works at Ibrox wall as well so there is a reference to their standards built in. The routes are changed on a rolling basis so there is enough time to work on harder routes but I never get bored of repeating easier climbs and I put this down to the setting.
There are a few 'follow the holds' climbs for beginners but they set routes very creatively - generating difficulty by technique rather than hold size / frequency. A disadvantage of the design is that there are no overhangs but by using an archway some overhanging moves can be created. Having read some of the pet hates of users at other walls I think the Peak staff avoid most of them.
A big plus (Nothing to do with the setting) is that there are 6 auto belay devices which means I can go on my own and have a good session and if I meet someone its even better.

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